Posted tagged ‘Arizona State University’

It’s time to think creatively about higher education funding

July 13, 2015

The first time, a few years ago, that I visited Arizona State University (with whom my then institution DCU was developing a partnership),  I arrived at a particularly interesting time. Just as I was there the citizens of Phoenix approved by a significant majority in a referendum the proposal to create a $223 million bond to provide capital funding for a new ASU campus. This decision really impressed me: the willingness of the citizens to assume this burden, and the partnership it expressed that would allow the university to create state of the art facilities beyond the reach, at least at the one time, of almost any university in this part of the world. It also reminded me how unimaginative we tend to be when we look at the resourcing of higher education.

Interestingly, in Ireland the recently established expert group on higher education funding chaired by Peter Cassells, is reported to be considering savings bonds as a way of creating a partnership between families and the state in providing funding: families save, and the state matches their savings (or provides tax or other incentives on a significant scale).

It is time to move away from the binary obsession: that higher education must be paid out of general taxation; or else paid for by students or their families. Neither of these options now works well, leaving either serious under-funding or chronic personal debt. It is time to look beyond these old models.


Could there be a new model for the public university?

August 10, 2011

One of the occasional themes of this blog is this question: what is a ‘public university’, and assuming that it is a desirable institution, how can it be secured and preserved? As I have noted previously, much of the public commentary on this question assumes that a ‘public’ university has that status when it is funded largely by public money; though I have also pointed out that, in my view at least, that is an unsatisfactory approach. What a public university does is much more interesting than how it is funded.

Another approach by some commentators is to argue that a ‘public university’ is one that advances the idea of education as a ‘public good’, or sometimes the idea that education should be pursued ‘for its own sake’. I regard the latter suggestion as rather meaningless: if education should only be offered for ‘its own sake’ – in other words, if we can think of no other reason – then it shouldn’t be offered at all. There are thousands of reasons why people should be educated to the highest levels that their intellectual ability can support, and it is quite unnecessary for us to suggest something as vacuous as education ‘for its own sake’.

My fear has been for some time that the arguments advanced in support of public education have become almost banal, just as the actual issues around education have become increasingly complex. Higher education in particular is now recognised as a key requirement for an advanced economy, for a stable society, for high value research that addresses some of society’s most urgent problems, for a tolerant and cultured population, and so forth. These needs sit uncomfortably alongside an educational theory that suggests that educational institutions should steer clear of direct economic and social involvement.

There is an alternative view of the public university, which suggests that education needs to connect with the world and its problems and arrange its teaching and research to ‘focus on global and local outcomes’. The key advocate of this approach has been Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University. Michael Crow has been recognised as one of the most influential US university presidents, and under his strategy to develop ASU as a ‘new American university’ it has shot up the rankings and attracted a lot of attention. Arguing that the American academy is often surprisingly unable or unwilling to influence decision-makers and society more generally to adopt better ways of solving problems, he has suggested that the university’s teaching and research should be ‘use-inspired’.

While there has been a debate on this side of the Atlantic about public universities and universities as a public good, this has often stopped short of suggesting what any of this means in a practical sense (apart from issues of funding). Whether or not we think that Michael Crow’s ‘new American university’ provides a model that could be used here, it should at least inject an interesting dimension into the debate.

A letter from Arizona

December 15, 2008

This blog is coming to you from Arizona. On Monday morning I shall be attending an event hosted by Arizona State University in honour of President Mary McAleese, who is on a visit to the United States right now. At the event President McAleese will be arguing the case for knowledge-intensive investment in Ireland, and others (myself included) will be highlighting the role that universities play in creating the right conditions for such investment. And I shall also mention the mutual advantages that have already been achieved through the strong cooperation between DCU and Arizona State University.

The President will, I am certain, be extremely effective in her advocacy – she is an extraordinarily powerful representative of Ireland’s interests on such occasions.

It will be worthwhile also for the various officials from Ireland who will be present at this event to consider the successes that have been achieved in recent years in Arizona, under Governor Janet Napolitano. The Governor has helped to change fundamentally the strategy of this state. In many ways Arizona has a number of disadvantages. It is relatively peripheral in terms of its location; it has a fairly hostile climate, with desert conditions and temperatures that for several months every year are extremely high; it has not historically had a major industrial presence; it had a deficit of public investment in infrastructure; and until earlier this decade it had a major budget deficit. The geography and climate are of course the same as before, but a lot of other things have changed. There has been a strong focus on public investment within a balanced budget, on innovation and skills, and on attracting and retaining high-tech investment. Two other key people have supported this policy direction: Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and Bill Harris, CEO of Science Foundation Arizona. 

Like the rest of the world, Arizona has experienced the effects of the credit crisis and the economic downturn. As in Ireland, the state has had to cut or delay funding under a number of headings. However, it has done this in the context of a number of key strategic choices, allowing funding to be developed further for some priority areas and projects. University infrastructure, and education and research more generally, have been supported strongly in the Governor’s budget for 2009.

It is clear that an early economic recovery will be helped – in Ireland as in Arizona – by the resolute pursuit of some key strategic decisions, which will need to involve strong support for higher education. In Arizona it is to be hoped that this policy direction will continue under a new Governor, as Janet Napolitano is set to join the cabinet of President-elect Barack Obama. In Ireland it is top be hoped that that the Government will work with the universities to ensure that there is a funding and resourcing environment that will allow them to succeed as magnets for new high value investment and the development of indigenous enterprise and innovation.